Season 2 of The Legend of Korra has recently started airing in America, and while its British premiere date has yet to be confirmed, the DVD of Season 1 is set to be realised in the UK at the end of this month. With that in mind, I thought now would be a good idea to look back at the previous season and let you all know why this particular show is such a big deal.
The Legend of Korra (TLoK) is a sequel to the immensely popular and hugely successful Avatar: The Last Airbender (A:TLA), which took audiences by storm back in 2005 with its memorable characters, surprisingly mature storytelling and its jaw dropping action sequences. So when a sequel was announced in 2010, fans around the world rejoiced.
But this is no ordinary sequel – the creators made sure of that. They set the series 70 years after its predecessor and announced that the majority of the original characters had passed away. In doing so, they showed that the new series would be bold and unafraid to take risks. They showed that it was confident enough and different enough to be watched and praised on its own merits.
A different kind of show
The announcement that the new show wouldn’t focus on the old characters upset many fans, but when it started airing in 2012, it became apparent that the creators had made the right choice. By setting the show in a whole new era, it forces the viewers to appreciate and connect with the new characters, rather than just waiting for their old favourites to turn up. But it isn’t afraid to pay homage to the legacy of its predecessor – statues and memorials of the original characters adorn the streets, and several of their offspring are introduced, all of which give the fans something to cheer about. The Legend of Korra finds a perfect balance between old and new, and gives us the best of both worlds.
Another interesting thing about this show is just how dark it is. The Last Airbender was dark, dealing with themes like genocide and indoctrination, and never sugar-coating any of them, but somehow never felt as dark as The Legend of Korra. This is possibly down to the fact that TLoK has a much smaller episode count, which means that the season is entirely plot driven. In A:TLA, no matter how dark the story was, it always had time for filler episodes – in the middle of political corruption we got ‘Tales of Ba Sing Se’ and amid the horrors of war we got the hilarious ‘The Ember Island Players’. So although the story it tells is probably no darker than that of its predecessor, The Legend of Korra’s lack of trivial and light-hearted episodes make it seem like a much more mature and serious show, which is what I think the creators were going for.
A more personal touch
The first season of The Legend of Korra, subtitled Book One: Air, follows the new Avatar, a waterbender called Korra, in her quest to master the final element – air. She runs away from her home in the South Pole and travels to Republic City, a magnificently designed steampunk metropolis, to seek out the airbender Tenzin, the son of the previous Avatar. Once there, she finds herself completely out of her depth and in the midst of a huge conspiracy.
Book One starts quickly and carries on a breakneck pace. With only 12 episodes, it doesn’t have the luxury of a slow setup. Instead, just like Korra herself, the audience is thrown in at the deep end. We learn in the first episode that a man named Amon has started the “Equalists”, an anti-bender movement. In the third episode we learn just how dangerous he is, and three episodes later, he makes his bid for power. It only takes him half a season to bring Republic City to its knees – that’s how fast the story moves in this show. But despite events unfolding so quickly, the show somehow manages to feel more personal and character driven than The Last Airbender.
In that show, Aang (the titular airbender) had his destiny thrust upon him – he knew from the start that he had to master the four elements to defeat the villainous Fire Lord. In Korra’s case, all she has to do is master the elements. There’s no looming threat to the world, no greater cause, all she has to do is train. So when she stumbles across a very serious threat, she is thrust into a situation she isn’t ready for. Suddenly being the Avatar is more than just a game. Because of her naivety over the importance of her role, she underestimates her opponent until it’s too late. The first half of the series focuses on Korra’s desire to win the Pro-bending championship (which makes for some brilliantly visual and pulse-pounding television) and to chase after the pompadour sporting Mako, rather than defeating the enemy. For a lot of the series, her goals are purely personal, and that gives the show a completely different feel to what has come before.
And despite its fast pacing, The Legend of Korra does something that The Last Airbender didn’t – it allows the relationships of the characters to develop slowly and realistically. In A:TLA it always felt like the characters just kind of fell into their romances, but in TLoK you can see them building and budding, and this element once again reinforces the more personal feel of the series. Whether the main characters are fighting bad guys or going on awkward dates, the show never fails to keep you completely enthralled and entertained.